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Primary Source Analysis

Angeline Jones

ELPS 427-002: Torres-Olave

After the scandal known quite fondly now as Watergate then-President Richard Nixon

found himself the center of media attention as well as the target of much scrutiny for his

involvement in the cover up. This was also around the highpoint in time of the career of one of

the most well-known women in Hollywood of that time as well. With over 30 film credits and

countless radio credits to her name, Mercedes McCambridge was a household name of that time.

Her most famous roles included Sadie Burke in All the Kings Men (1949), for which she won

both an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and the voice of the demon in the

1979 hit, The Exorcist. Born March 16, 1916 in Joliet, IL Mercedes McCambridge rose to fame

in 1949, leading to a long, successful career earning her not just one, but two stars on the

Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was also a proud graduate of Mundelein College, Chicago. I feel

that it is safe to say that both of these figures were well known by all at the time, and by many

still today. It is for this reason that I found it so interesting to find in the archives of Women and

Leadership, a letter written to Mercedes from former President Nixon.

In the letter, which dates March 4, 1988, Nixon writes personally to Mercedes as a friend.

He mentions how he feels comfortable enough to address her by her first name because he feels

as if he knows her, even if only through a mutual friend of theirs. His letter expresses his

appreciation for a generous comment made by Mercedes while doing readings of letters from the

James S. Copley Library. Nixon follows this by mentioning his relations with the media and how

they were not too pleasant. He concludes his short letter to Mercedes by mentioning his

treasuring of their [the medias] friendship and wise counsel and sending Mercedes his warm

regards (Nixon, 1988). While this piece in particular does not have a direct connection to the

field of higher education, Mercedes McCambridge , herself does. As a notable alumna of

Mundelein College, she studied theater, understandably leading up to her impressive career. After

graduation she moved to New York to pursue her acting career, (McCambridge Papers, pg. 1,

2009). Throughout her notable career, McCambridge also battled alcoholism. Having admitted

that it hindered her still successful career, she testified before Senator Harold E. Hughes

Subcommittee on Alcohol and Narcotics in 1969. This was her first time publicly confessing to

her past problems with alcoholism (McCambridge Papers, pg. 1, 2009). Although not directly

related to higher education, Mercedes work in eliminating alcoholism helped many other fight

their addictions as well. The McCambridge papers of 2009 even mention her numerous awards

and honors bestowed upon her at the White House for her humanitarian work (pg. 1).

This letter truly captivated my attention when I first noticed it in the archives, not only

because it was from former President Nixon, but because it resonated with me on how influential

celebrity personalities can be on society. While I cannot know exactly what comment Mercedes

made on Nixons behalf, it was clearly something that resonated with him enough to want to

reach out to her personally. I find myself making connections even to our current President and

his relationships with famous personalities. For example, President Barrack Obama has on more

than one occasion acknowledged his friendship with power couple Beyonc and Jay-Z. In turn,

they have shown their support of him publicly as well. I see a parallel with these two examples

because I feel that both show that when a public figure is seen as unfavorable, by associating

themselves with another individual or a couple who are favorable in the eyes of the public and

media may help to change the opinion of those who dislike them. I feel that by writing this letter,

even though they may not have known one another personally, they still had a friendly

relationship that Nixon wanted to be public knowledge. I also think that this was one of the key

messages backing this letter. By acknowledging a mutual friend, Nixon has bridged the gap

between himself and Mercedes as well as opened up the lines of communication for future


When thinking of the larger context of this letter, it was written toward the end of the

Iran-Iraq war. While the United States had limited involvement in the war between the two

countries, it is no secret that wars in other countries have far reaching effects beyond those

directly involved. Due to the magnitude of the scandal which Nixon was the center of during his

time in office, I feel confident in proposing that this letter was in reference to that. Zacher quotes

Louis Liebovich in his article Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press, in saying that, From

the day he became presidentNixon obsessed over the media as enemies to harass and

intimidate, (2003, p.150). In his article, Zacher also mentions how Nixon tolerated no criticism

from media, along with making a list of enemies; read: reporters and journalists (2003, p.150).

This mention of the media in particular truly struck me because I saw a connection between

Nixons actions while in office, as well as his willingness to reach out to someone he knew only

through a mutual friend, in order to thank her for kind words spoken on his behalf, even after he

had left office. Due to the vague nature of the letter, many of the conclusions that I come to are

purely conjecture based on the available resources of that time, but given the magnitude of Nixon

as President and the way his actions shaped popular opinion of him, I feel confident in my


The lingering questions that remain with me after exploring the archives and this letter in

particular, involve the premise of this letter. While it clearly appears to be written from a place of

friendliness and gratitude, it raises questions on the specifics. By this I refer to the specific

generous comment she made which made in reference to Nixon. It also causes me to wonder

what relations he was referring to with the media. Obviously, my mind immediately wanders

back toward the Watergate Scandal, and Nixons involvement with that, however there are other

possibilities as well, seeing as he did preside as President of the United States for two terms, I am

certain that Nixon was known for things other than just the scandal. This letter also causes me to

wonder about what may have happened after it was written. Did Mercedes respond? Were they

ever able to meet in person or get to know each other as opposed to just sharing a mutual friend?

This letter itself was a very interesting piece of history to be able to experience. It was quite

vague, which may have been purposeful, but leaves me in a place with many questions.


Mercedes McCambridge Papers, 1935-2004, Women and Leadership Archives, Pages 1-5.

Loyola University, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from,%20Mercedes.pdf on 2015,
September 17.

Nixon, R. (1988, March 4). [Letter to Mercedes McCambridge]. Mercedes McCambridge

Papers, 1935-2004, Women and Leadership Archives (Box 1, Folder 1-5), Loyola
University, Chicago, IL.

Zacher, D. (2003). {Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press}. Journalism History, 29(3), 150.